It’s hard to believe that before Saturday, Red Bull-sponsored whitewater kayaker Tao Berman had never launched in his kayak off a ramp and into a river, especially with all the seasons he spent at the Oregon Cup, where ramp-hucking was an annual event. But at the big air ramp event at Richmond, VA’s annual Dominion Riverrock festival, Berman added a Red Bull Canal Crashers title to his long list of kayaking accomplishments. Berman hucked a clean corkscrew 360 move in which he spun both horizontally and vertically off the 30-foot ramp to top a competitive field of eight and take the $1,000 purse. “I came out here never having done a ramp before,” said Berman. “I surpassed my own expectations.”
Berman’s big air exploits were only part of a weekend festival on downtown Richmond’s Brown’s Island that celebrated the James River’s critical role in the community’s recreational fabric. Event organizer (and former C1 whitewater slalom world champ) Jon Lugbill said the 25,000 spectators and 3,000 participants who attended the multi-sport festival attest to Richmond’s love of the James. “The success of Dominion Riverrock blew away our expectations,” said Lugbill. “Having the Red Bull Canal Crashers event at [the festival] brought the equivalent of waterfall jumping to downtown Richmond in an unbelievable setting crowded with people.”
Asheville, NC-based boater Andrew Holcombe claimed the Riverrock’s other paddling event, a boatercross race that pitted four kayakers head-to-head on a 200-yard stretch of Class III-IV water at the heart of the festival grounds. “You don’t get a whole lot better than that,” said Holcombe of the James River course, in which boaters had to negotiate a series of buoys and punch a sticky, carnage-worthy three-foot pour-over in front of the standing-room only audience.
Local boaters are lucky enough to enjoy the James year-round. Added Berman of the venue: “If I were to move to the east coast, Richmond may be the place I’d move to.”